Thursday, 27 September 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - William Roache

The Coronation Street actor William Roache was the subject of last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Now 80 years old, William's personal memories are extensive enough to act as a very good foundation for genealogy reasearch.

Williams focus for this episode of WDYTYA? was his grandmother, Zillah Waddicor, and her life running a cafe in Alton Towers in the period between the two world wars. This was prior to Alton Towers being converted to the theme park that it is now famous for. Originally it was the country estate of the Earls of Shrewsbury.

As a large cafe catering for up to one thousand people at a time, Zillah's business was very important to the local community. As a result, and thankfully for William, several records have been kept, including photographs and even an example of a menu. The success of Zillah's cafe is an example of the first generation of working class day-trippers, and in that context is important to the understanding of social history.

As proud as William was of his grandmother's entrepreneurial spirit, he wanted to find out how she had become so successful, and what role his grandfather, Albert, had to play. From the census records of 1911 he discovered that Albert had run a stall selling soft drinks and ice-cream in Blackpool. Business directories going back to 1896 revealed that the stall had originally been owned by Albert's father, James.

More than this, James actually owned several properties that he rented out. William found James' will, which  revealed that his estate was worth almost half a million pounds in today's money. Interestingly, James made his daughter-in-law Zillah, and not his own son Albert, an executor of his will. Furthermore, he left his entire estate in trust to only one of his three granddaughters. A check of the 1901 census showed that the other two granddaughters, including William's mother, were living with other relatives, suggesting that they were not as close to James.

Discovering that his mother, at only three months old, was not living with her parents was an emotional end to William's WDYTYA? journey.

William Roache's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

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